Health Column - October/November 21
We all need a little salt as it helps to keep our body fluids at the right concentration and it’s also necessary for muscle and nerve activity. Yet, as a nation we’re eating too much.
The recommended salt amount is no more than 6g a day – that’s around one teaspoon. However, on average in the UK, we’re consuming closer to 8.1g. This might not sound like much but the everyday accumulative effect of consuming too much salt can lead to raised or high blood pressure and an increased risk of stroke or heart disease.
Cutting back on salt
Even if you don’t usually add salt to your meals, you may still be consuming more than you realise. That’s because around three-quarters of the salt we eat is hidden in ready-prepared, processed or manufactured foods.
Some foods are almost always high in salt because of the way they are made, so cutting back on these will really help to lower your salt intake. These include anchovies, bacon, cheese, gravy granules, ham, olives, pickles, prawns, salami, salted and dry-roasted nuts, salt fish, smoked meat and fish, soy sauce, stock cubes and yeast extract.
In addition, there are processed foods that can contribute a lot of salt to our diets, particularly when they are eaten too often. These include biscuits, bread products, breakfast cereals, crisps, flapjacks, pizza, pasta sauces, ready meals, soup, sandwiches, sausages plus sauces such as tomato ketchup and mayonnaise.
Reducing your salt intake is easier than you might think. Many of us add salt to our meals out of habit and soon realise food tastes just as good without it. Around three weeks after reducing the amount of salt you add to meals, your tastebuds will adapt and become more sensitive. This means you’ll get the same flavour from the foods you love, only with less salt.
Herbs are a great alternative to salt and can be used both for seasoning and to provide flavour. Black pepper, spices, garlic, lemon and lime juice can also be used to season food and enhance flavour.
Making informed choices
Although convenient, ready meals often contain high amounts of salt. Most pre-packed foods will have a nutritional label on the back or side of the packaging. Look out for the salt content in the everyday foods you buy and try to choose lower salt options. Traffic-light labelling on food packaging is designed to help you to make more informed, healthier choices. The colour-coded information shows whether a product is green (low in salt), amber (medium) or red (high). Aim to eat mainly foods that are amber or green.
Easy food swaps
Swap crisps and salted nut snacks for unsalted nuts or seeds or choose fresh fruit or vegetables such as carrot or celery sticks.
Swap bacon, ham, sausage and cheese-based pizzas, pastas and sandwiches for tomato, mozzarella, chicken, egg, salad or vegetable-based versions.
Swap processed foods such as ready meals for low-salt varieties or try cooking from scratch.
Swap cheesy pasta sauces for tomato-based sauces as these are often lower in salt.